The End of Biblical Studies, Chapter 1: Translation

Hector Avalo’s outlines polar positions regarding translation: 

(1) “A translation is an interpretation. Absolute reproduction is impossible in any work” (Phillip Schaff, The End of Biblical Studies, pg 38) 

(2) ‘the bible, unlike any other book, is able to ‘adapt itself perfectly’…and to speak with equal directness, clearness and authority to all peoples, tribes, and nations in their mother tongue’ (Avalos paraphrasing Philip Mauro, The End of Biblical Studies, pg 38) 

The second approach has the translation problem of ‘functional equivalence’ (or dynamic equivalence) – purpose:

From the point of view of the target literature, all translation implies a degree of manipulation of the source text for a certain purpose” (Avalos quoting Theo Hermans, The End of Biblical Studies, pg 39-40)

The basic principle of dynamic/functional equivalence is to use translations that would make sense in the reader’s culture rather than exact-word equivalents” (Avalos, The End of Biblical Studies, pg 41)

Example: Romans 3:28 – Luther adds in the world ‘alone’ to ‘faith alone’ based on the needs of the German language.

Another problem with ‘functional equivalence’ – priority

So, in some ways, dynamic/functional equivalence privileges the target language (the language for which the translation is meant) over the source language (the language from which the translation is made)” (Avalos, The End of Biblical Studies, pg 42)

Some examples (Tanakh):

Deuteronomy 32:8-9 (polytheism) – the terms ‘The Most High’ (Elyon) and ‘The Lord’ (YHWH)

Genesis 1:1-3 (Creation from nothing?) – ‘Accordingly Genesis 1:1-3 does not describe creation out of nothing (creation ex nihilo), but the story begins with something already there” (Avalos, The End of Biblical Studies, pg 46). I have also heard this claim in Jewish theology by Rabbi Neil Gilman in another book I am reading about ‘God’.

Jeohoiachin’s real age – 2 Kings 24:8 and 2 Chronicles 36:9 (show different ages)

Who killed Goliath? 1 Samuel 17:49-51 (David) or 2 Samuel 21:19 (Elhanan) – the KJV adds in ‘brother of Goliath’ which are not in the Hebrew

Some example (Gospels):

Luke 14:25-26 – the word ‘hate’ is translated differently in the Good News Bible and the comparative approach creates problems with other translations (as in hate in regards to loving Jesus)

Matthew 19:12 – CEV sanitizes the act of genital mutilation as ‘okay’ with Jesus

The NIV/TNIV has decided to add ‘gender inclusive’ language to fit the market – problem – hides the misogyny and creates translation problems:

All gender-inclusive translations, therefore, aim not to express the original culture of ancient authors but to hide it and render it palatable to modern culture” (Avalos, The End of Biblical Studies, pg 56)

Anti Judaism in the NT texts (translators, namely of the NIV strand, are trying to hide these occurrences):

Irvin J. Borowsky states that it would be good for biblical societies and religious publications to create two editions – one for the public and one for scholars (paraphrased from The End of Biblical Studies, pg 56).

Orwellian double-speak could not be celebrated more fervently. The proposal is paternalistic because it assumes that readers need to be protected from their own bible.” (Avalos, The End of Biblical Studies, pg 56)

In conclusion, Avalo’s sees a pattern in translation, whether formal (word for word) or functional equivalence…”mistranslation is, in this sense, often the goal of all biblical translations.” (Avalos, The End of Biblical Studies, pg 58).

So, do students of the bible has a problem here with translation and knowing what they are (or are not) reading in the texts from translatiing from Hebrew and Greek to English? How much of a problem is this? Are we being mis-lead?


5 thoughts on “The End of Biblical Studies, Chapter 1: Translation

  1. “Are we being mis-lead?” SVS

    In the KJV, I would say yes. There are very purposeful words put in to keep the church’s hierarchy in place.

    I read a book about the KJV translation and they had to use the words, “church” instead of fellowship or community. They used words like “bishopprick”, “pastors” “deacon”. Obvious translations like “virgin” instead of “young girl” to keep dogma correct.

    So how can anyone trust any translation?

  2. The KJV is quite a bit off – in all honesty. I read quite a bit on it as well and have found it to be quite an untrustworthy translation…same with the NIV.

    “So how can anyone trust any translation?” (Wolf)

    That’s the big thing IMO as well. Translations are by nature, flawed to a certain degree (nothing is exact). However, I feel the best that can be offered is a word for word equivalent of what is the Greek or Hebrew and let the reader piece the sentences together(?). One should also have the study tools of the Greek and Hebrew if possible to help with some of this. Then again, this is why scholars in these fields put together translations for the reader to read.

    I have little problem with the translated word and can accept there will be some errors in the process. That being said, none of the errors pointed out change much (most of then are isolated incidents getting made into bigger probelms than is really there). So for me, I think the words have been translated to the best of the ability available.

    That all being said, I agree – translations have limitations – and with the changes of the culture to boot – we seem to be losing a lot of the meaning of those texts in their original context and it is getting harder to make a functional equivalent of what was meant then – and how it can be used now.

    The next chapter of this book is off the hook, which I will report on very soon, the texts for the translations.

  3. I think the problem is pretty obvious, the translators (some of them), may have agenda’s to promote in their translations.

    The virgin birth is useless regardless of translation – it’s not even a prophecy nor was it ever considered a messianic belief in Jewish history. This is clearly invention – based on a basic mis-translation of ‘alma’ in the greek Septuagint. I think the translator of that time even (some 2000 years ago) wanted it to read ‘virgin’ and found proof in the Greek Septuagint. The passage stuck and 2 stories appeared in gospels.

    The trinity was trying to be stuck in the bible – in I John. It appears this was also never a teaching of historical Judaism and was a creation of early Christianity. Tricky tactics have been used to make this more true as an idea – however – the idea is rampantly against Exodus 20:1-4…which makes the God who supposedly spoke these commands (and wrote them on a rock) a hypocrite.

    The NT obviously has anti-semitic over-tones within it’s texts – just the way it is. Translations that seek to hide that are not doing justice to the history of the texts in their 1st and 2nd century culture. There was obviously a serious strain between Christianity and Judaism and these texts prove that. Are they racist? They never made me racist – they made me appreciate Judaism and wanna learn about it. They are super-sessionist and ignorant – that’s for sure.

    I think translation functions to save face for the church and to back it’s every play. In fact, Avalos in his mext chapter points out how the translating companies are working together now for a more unified piece of work. This means no new work is being done in this field to update the texts – but keep the status quo.

  4. “Are we being mis-lead?” SVS

    Why are you mislead as a believer of the reasonably unbelievable? Because you accept it as a literal that there is a best translation? Because you believe there is a ‘truer’ or even a ‘divine’ translation? When you know without a doubt that the original manuscripts were translated from thousands of years of oral tradition. But dare I say that you are looking for a “fundamentalist” translation that has its origins in the beginning of the religion (when it was “pure”). Your premise is the problem – as there is no such thing as the “pure” translation to begin with.

  5. “But dare I say that you are looking for a “fundamentalist” translation that has its origins in the beginning of the religion (when it was “pure”). Your premise is the problem – as there is no such thing as the “pure” translation to begin with.” (Johnny)

    That’s where I agree…there is no perfect translation and there never will be…we use what we got and hopefully we can work past some of the agenda’s behind the process.

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